Passion for Dialogue

INTERVIEW. Klara Grunning-Harris wasn’t sure she would ever return to her Scandinavian roots, but the post of DFI film commissioner was too much of a temptation. After 17 years in California, the 39-yearold Swedish-Korean-American producer is ready to use her skills and connections in international co-production to strengthen Danish film’s global position.

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Klara Grunning-Harris. Photo: Robin Skjoldborg

Klara Grunning-Harris has only just started in her new job as film commissioner for short and documentary films, and on the surface of things it looks like a big step. She has acted as an independent producer, consultant and filmmaker since 1997 and lived in San Francisco since 1993. She has travelled the world, exercising her expertise in international coproduction, served on heaps of industry panels, and her first language is not Danish but Swedish and English.

"If you can get people connecting around something they are passionate about, it can create a very positive energy and if you are lucky – change."

Sharing Stories

A theme that has fuelled Grunning-Harris throughout the years is film’s unique ability to create a dialogue. For even though talent, strong artistic vision and a solid teamwork encouraging experiment are the fundamentals of filmmaking, sharing your story and really getting it out there is its raison d'etre, she says.

"I'm passionate about stories where people from different parts of the world start communicating all of a sudden about an issue. Where, say, different generations are exchanging perspectives, or developing countries and western countries engage in a dialogue. I've seen this happen very successfully in my previous work."

"If you can get people connecting around something they are passionate about, it can create a very positive energy and if you are lucky – change."

The Internet has, of course, been extremely beneficial to the diffusion of documentaries to global audiences, Grunning-Harris points out. "Platforms like YouTube provide a great opportunity to expose your project. I think documentarians should include these early in the process in order to get a better picture of the distribution possibilities later on and to build a support network that will create the right buzz." And of course, says Grunning-Harris, this exposure is important in opening the project up to financing possibilities.

"But then again, using the Internet can create a lot of confusion, because there are so many possibilities. That's why I want filmmakers to make a very detailed outreach and distribution plan, and then stick to it. I don't want the creators to get too distracted by all these marketing issues."

Cultural Exchange

Grunning-Harris has a keen eye for new creative partnerships through her many years of production experience. When asked which opportunities she sees for Danish films, she points to the southern hemisphere, among other places.

"I see a lot of interest from Danish filmmakers in stories from Africa – Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe. And as Scandinavia has a high level of technology, projects like these could represent a great exchange with underdeveloped regions. People there don't watch television, they don't watch movies in theatres. What they have is basically a mobile phone. It would be great to be able to create content in these areas, but on the platforms that are available to them."

"I think it's important for people in these regions to be offered a different perspective on themselves – to help broaden their sense of self. This kind of feedback is exactly what documentarians can give, because they often come in with great knowledge and sympathy, and they stay on for some time."

"In my previous work I've seen crews who collaborate with a local television station and talk about, say, technical aspects of how to have community screenings in villages. It could also be engaging kids and teenagers in schools in what you’re doing. Of course, all this can be really hallenging in places where there is a war going on ..."

"I have a hard time with cultures that "steal stories" – coming in, using the local subject and then disappearing without sharing your work and without knowing what you leave behind."

Breathing Room

Grunning-Harris' new job at the Danish Film Institute fits perfectly with her work during the past five years, where she has created strong bonds with Nordic filmmakers. Part of what attracted Grunning-Harris to the teamwork at the Film Institute was the opportunity to help Danish films break into new markets. They take creative risks and are visually strong – qualities that she finds very inspiring.

"I've been seeing more Danish films at festivals and markets for the last six-seven years. What stands out for me is the courage to tell stories that aren't important just because of an issue that is exposed, but because the filmmaker wants to share a situation of some sort – a human situation, without pushing a political agenda. It's a very radical way of telling stories, I think – inconspicuous but at the same time very direct and very real."

"I also noticed an incredible skill in the editing, which is such a huge part of documentary filmmaking. There is an enormous sense of timing and, again, the courage to leave breathing room. As a filmmaker, you really have to believe in your vision to be able to do that."

"I think in Denmark there is an enormous amount of support for being courageous in your filmmaking which is also part of why I wanted to try it out – to see what it's like to actually be in an environment that supports original voices."

Factbox

Klara Grunning-Harris

Born 1971, Sweden. Studied art in Paris and moved to San Francisco in 1993, where she completed her film studies at the Academy of Art University in 1997. Since then she has worked as producer, writer, director, consultant and cinematographer – since 1999 for ITVS in San Francisco, where she headed the start up of a new division for international coproduction. Started the production consulting company Hell in a Handbasket in 2000. Grunning-Harris was instrumental in the launch of Kudos Family in 2008, a company focusing on multiplatform media distribution and based in San Francisco and Stavanger. Grunning-Harris’ track record as producer includes the Emmy Award winner Gumby Dharma, What Do You Believe?, music videos, shorts and commercials.

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